Thursday, January 19, 2023

Q&A with Martha Freeman




Martha Freeman is the author of the new middle grade novel Trashed!. Her many other books include Zap!. A former reporter and teacher, she lives in Oregon.


Q: In your book’s acknowledgments, you describe some of the inspirations for Trashed!, including an amazing junk store in Arizona. Can you say more about that?


A: Universal Trash, the store in the book, is based on a store in Prescott, Arizona, no longer in business – alas – where several years ago I consigned a heap of my mother’s furnishings, artwork, and tchotchkes.  


I remember standing in the aisles awestruck by the customers buying and selling and by the abundance and variety of stuff, including taxidermy, jewelry, and a painting by one of the modern masters (I can’t remember who!) that may or may not have been authentic.


For a long time I’ve been interested in people’s relationships with their stuff. I think the urge to acquire is inherited from hunter-gatherer ancestors who had to collect or perish. That urge is doing the planet more harm than good these days, and yet our whole capitalist system is based on it. A conundrum!


I think one place a person can revel guilt-free in the wonder and variety of stuff - and even satisfy that acquisitive urge - is at a “junk store” like Universal Trash.


Q: How did you create your character Arthur Popper, and how would you describe the Popper family?


A: The name and the bangs come from a friend and neighbor who is now just about the right age for the book. The character is my own invention, though, and more of an everykid. He sees himself as ordinary, not the go-getter that his sister is and some of his friends are, and not the Colorado royalty from which he is descended.

In other words, he wonders if he is good enough and what he is supposed to do with his life, in particular what will give him “the warm glow of accomplishment” he seeks. That’s his quest in the book – his holy grail. You’ll have to read it to see if he finds it!


As for his family, I’d say both his parents are feeling thwarted in the way you do when you’re in the day-to-day thick of raising kids. The grandparents, old hippies who made good with an unexpectedly successful business, are also important. Grandma, with her motorcycle and free spirit, is probably the most at-peace-with-life character while Grandpa has grown bitter and may be failing mentally. He is not necessarily a bad guy, but he is certainly problematic. 


Q: What role do you see magic playing in the novel?


A: I grew up watching a TV show called Topper that featured helpful, everyday ghosts, including the ghost of a St. Bernard. I wasn’t aware of it as I wrote, but looking back, I think the ghost in this book was inspired by the ones on that show.


There’s nothing frightening or especially powerful about Watson. She’s just a caring and occasionally annoying friend who fits neatly on a shelf and appears and disappears when she pleases. She’s also good to talk to. I’d say her existence, the mystery of it, makes Arthur’s reality just a little more interesting.  


Q: The Kirkus Review of the book says, in part, “Impressively, Freeman also interweaves a subplot concerning prejudice that feels as real as the characters who work and shop at Universal Trash.” What do you think of that description, and why did you decide to include the subplot in the novel?


A: Thank you, Kirkus! Very nice comment! At the same time, I’m not aware of having made any particular effort at interweaving. That is, the issue felt integral to the story and to the reality of the times we live in.


Not to give too much away but Grandpa expresses a hateful prejudice that goes hand in hand with a destructive accusation. In solving the mystery, Arthur has to look objectively at the accusation. Later he also has to decide how and whether to confront Grandpa and, maybe more poignantly, how he feels about his grandpa.


I hope I made Grandpa a flawed but three-dimensional character, one with the potential for salvation – maybe in some subsequent book.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on two picture books for Hyperion about a well-intentioned somewhat spoiled cat that does not like change. And, maybe more for fun than for profit, I’m working on a mystery manuscript for adults. Stay tuned.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes – that writers and readers are lucky to have smart, savvy, interested supporters such as Deborah Kalb! It is always a pleasure to consider your questions and to appear in your space.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Martha Freeman.

1 comment:

  1. Can't wait to read this book! I want to know how Arthur finds his "warm glow of accomplishment," and am very intrigued by the relationship he has with his Grandpa.